The Penderwicks is the story of the four Penderwick sisters, Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty. Rosalind is the oldest, and at twelve, she has spent the past few years taking care of her younger sisters. Skye and Jane are eleven and ten, respectively, while little Batty is only four. Their mother died soon after Batty's birth, leaving them with their loving botanist father. The book takes place the summer that the Penderwick family, including their dog Hound, take a vacation at Arundel, the estate of the snobby Mrs. Tifton, where they will stay in her back cottage. They are told to stay out of Mrs. Tifton's way, but the girls can't seem to help getting into trouble. Along they way they meet Cagney, Arundel's 18-year-old gardener, his two rabbits, Carla and Yaz, and Mrs. Tifton's son Jeffrey. The girl's have many experiences in their few weeks at Arundel, including facing down a bull, chasing bunnies, developing crushes (Rosalind is just old enough to get her heart stuck on Cagney for a time), and helping Jeffrey stand up to his mother. This is a vacation they will never forget.
The Penderwicks won the National Book Award for Young People in 2005. It is definitely one of the best tween books I have read, in that it is one that it not only a good story, but deals with issues that tweens deal with without being heavy-handed. It never feels sappy or unrealistic. And although everything turns out happily in the end, it does not feel forced or fake, simply the natural ending of the summer. There has since been another Penderwicks book published – The Penderwicks on Gardam Street (2008) – so it may be developing into a series. These are excellent books to recommend to any tween who enjoys reading contemporary fiction, and although the story seems simplistic, the writing is sophisticated enough to be appreciated by older kids.
I read this book for my 999 Challenge, as it won the National Book Award for Young People in 2005. My whole list can be found here.